(1999-2009) Travel pattern of Bangkok: how the BTS system is used?

Before the establishment of BTS Skytrain and other Mass Transit Railway systems , the mode of transport in Bangkok already include a wide a range of ways. Buses, Taxi, Tuk Tuk and motorcycles are the many choices that Bangkok people would prefer to travel. In some instances, the traditional waterway transport are still proven to be an effective means of transport in certain parts of the city. In this article, we will be looking into how different social groups would engage with the Skytrain system.

Low income people

The low income people in Bangkok are people earning around 6000 baht a month. In their case,  they have little incentive engage with the BTS system because of the high ticket price. As mentioned before, the cost of using the BTS system would take up one third of their income. To these people, they would still prefer to use the bus system, which the price stretches from only around 5 to 15 baht compared to BTS price of around 40 to 60 baht. The condition in buses is notorious, especially in the rainy days, where it is hot and humid. The traffic congestion would take about 2-3 hours, and the people have to wake at 4 in the morning to go to work on time. For these people, they have a relatively lower time cost and have much less incentive to travel efficiently.

Another reason of not engaging with the BTS is because of the catchment area. Many low income families come from rural parts of Thailand or outskirts of Bangkok where the BTS system could not reach. They have no choice but to use bus, boat and heavy train,  in order to travel into inner Bangkok for employment opportunities.

Bangkok traffic jam make up of different types of transport modes
Bangkok traffic jam make up of different types of transport modes

 

Middle and Upper class

The case for the middle and upper class is much more diverse.To these people, they see Skytrain a symbol of modern living in Bangkok. Many Condominiums and Apartments use the Skytrain or the MRT as part of their advertisement as a convenient and more privileged method to travel around the city. In the past, these social class were looking for a suburb type of single house living influenced by the Western living styles. Now, they would prefer to acquire a condo near the Skytrain stations to take the Skytrain to their office.

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Sudang Eksuwan Assistant Secretary, 46

 

Besides proximity to their office, their choice of using Skytrain is also affected by their consumption habit. Sudang Eksuwan, an Assistant Secretary interviewed by Bangkok Post, believe that “Skytrain is a viable option not just because of its convenience but also because it is in walking distance to popular shopping areas and business districts.” Many department store nowadays try to have a Skywalk from the Skytrain station to their building. Such development resembles the vision of city of the future by Harvey Wiley Corbett, where the future city is dominated by elevated infrastructures.The concentrations of these more privileged members of the society in these commercial areas are the major part of the ridership of Skytrain.

 

Taweewat Wiwattanawanich Managing Director, 37
Taweewat Wiwattanawanich
Managing Director, 37

The efficiency and punctuality of the Skytrain system also plays a major role. According to Taweewat Wiwattanawanich, a managing director interviewed by Bangkok Post, he chooses to use BTS Skytrain because he would like to “ reach his appointments on time” . It was also easier for him to “ estimate how many clients I can see”. The time cost is much higher to him. “ We can always find ways to make money but we cannot buy time.”

However, it is crucial not to overlook the ever growing of car ownership in relationship with the mentality of the middle and upper class. They see owning a car as a question of status and modern living. At the same time,there is still some distance to reach the BTS station from their home. In some stations , they offer parking lot for commuters.  Considering the crime rate in Bangkok, many of these middle and higher class people ( a significant portion of western foreigners) would prefer having their own car. They would mainly see the skytrain as a mean for quick travel between commercial zones or a short cut when commuting longer distances but never the only means of travel.

 

 

The parking space at Mo Chit Skytrain Station
The parking space at Mo Chit Skytrain Station

 

Reference

Bengtsson, Magnus. The Bangkok Skytrain – The Transportation Solution for Bangkok People? Master’s thesis, UMEÅ University , Department of Social and Economic Geography , 2006.

Bohwongprasert, Yvonne. “The Humans of BTS Life Speaks with Seven Commuters to Find out How Important the Skytrain Is in Their Daily Life.” Bangkok Post, January 19, 2016.

5 Comments on “(1999-2009) Travel pattern of Bangkok: how the BTS system is used?

  1. It seems like the role of train in larger Asian cities is rather different from that in Hong Kong, they act as an option of part of the daily commute route rather than a routine that you take everyday and the working, living and entertainment place are within walking distance to the exist of the train system.

    More, it is interesting that the social status shown by the way of commutation is different in different cities, like in Bangkok, its for higher social class, while in other cities may be vice versa. It seems like city planning is not only about planning but may involve pr to deal with stereotypes.

  2. In a lot of country, the mass transport system like the BTS in Bangkok should bear a purpose or responsibility in order to release some of the traffic pressure on the ground. However, we can clearly see that the congestion problem is utterly serious in Bangkok which would happen nearly everyday not only the rush hour. The BTS which is mainly accessible economically by the middle or upper class people seems failed to improve traffic condition. But I think except for the advantage of being punctual, the BTS could not actually attract too many middle and upper class citizen since the car price in Thailand is unreasonably low compared to some other cities like Hong Kong. They are totally affordable for those who earn a little bit more in Bangkok.And it is a symbol of wealth to own a car in Thailand as well so people would prefer private car mostly even though the traffic is so bad. So I think the local authority should really consider the position of BTS in term of the benefits it can bring instead of just bringing in an seem-to-be-essential element of a modernized city into their own.

  3. Considering the investment of BTS system is largely contributed by private developers, the BTS system is a money-driven project rather than a construction of infrastructure. Geographically, the areas along the BTS line are commercial districts used by the middle and upper class. Socially, as part of the infrastructure of Bangkok, the BTS system failed to serve the low income people in the city because of the expensive price. Moreover, the parking space beside the BTS stations only serve the middle class who own the private car. As a result, the users of BTS system is limited and the problems of poor traffic condition in Bangkok is not improved. From this aspect, the BTS system seems to bring more problems than benefits to Bangkok. So I think the government should involve in the planning and operating the BTS lines, for example, funding the construction to lower the ticket price, in order to create more public good with the BTS system.

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